From: Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters
Published September 23, 2004 12:00 AM

Claims for Gulf Environmental Damage Are Exorbitant, Says Iraq

GENEVA — Iraq accused Kuwait and other neighbors this week of inflating their already massive claims for environmental damage due to its 1990 invasion and the Gulf War. In a speech to the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), Iraq's delegation called for at least $49 billion of the $82 billion in alleged environmental losses to be rejected.


The three-day session, which began on Tuesday, was the first time the Iraqi interim government, which took over in June from the U.S.-led coalition, addressed the UNCC's Governing Council.


The UNCC has received claims totalling $350 billion from individuals, companies, and governments for damages due to Iraq's August 1990 invasion and seven-month occupation of Kuwait. It includes $82 billion sought by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, and Syria for pollution of coastlines, fisheries, and desert areas caused by Iraqi troops who set oilwell fires and sabotaged other facilities.


The bulk of environmental claims are to be ruled on in December and next year.


But Iraq said Kuwait and other governments had inflated losses at private hearings last week, held before neutral panels of experts who are evaluating the claims.


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"The Republic of Iraq expresses its deep concern with certain recent developments in the UNCC process," Mukdad Hadi Salman, Iraqi charge d'affaires in Geneva, told the closed-door body in a speech. "These developments relate to the astronomical claims brought by the State of Kuwait and other governments before the panel for environmental and public health damages," he said.


Some $29 billion was being claimed for so-called "interim" environmental damage at a time when clean-up programs were underway, according to the Iraqi who called it "exorbitant."


Another $20 billion was being claimed by Kuwait and others for lost productivity due to damage to workers' health, he said, noting that there was no precedent under international law for recognizing either of the two claims which total $49 billion.


Kuwait, in an address to the session, confirmed that it had revised its environmental claim after carrying out monitoring and assessment studies but gave no new figure.


"The issue of payment of environmental claims is not just an issue for Kuwait but a question of rehabilitation of the region and the health of the region as a whole," said Khaled Ahmad Al-Mudaf, chairman of Kuwait's Gulf War claims program.


The UNCC's Governing Council, composed of the same 15 member states as the Security Council, has so far approved compensation of $48.5 billion, of which $18.6 billion has been paid.


Five percent of Iraqi oil revenues flow into the Geneva-based UNCC, which has been making quarterly payments of $200 million to claimants who have proved direct losses.


Source: Reuters


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